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Dance of the                        $Millions

"We have grown accustomed to the easy money, everyone around here."

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Saturnino Huamán:

Drug lord


As night descends on the jungle of Peru, where a few minutes before you could see the soccer field of Puerto Mayo in the warm colors of a tropical sunset, there is now only a black curtain.


Somewhere close, a gentle purl reveals the existence of the Apurímac River. But soon the chirping of cicadas becomes the dominant sound. During the 80s and 90s, Puerto Mayo was the main drug hub in the region. On the flat shore, where nowadays kids play soccer, a small plane landed nearly every day, in plain daylight, visible for anybody.


Saturnino Huamán was one of the bosses in these times. Most of his partners are long gone, the forgotten village in the humid tropics is not a place where anyone would stay longer than absolutely necessary. Huamán, though, likes the place and so he staid. From the porch of his wooden hut, overlooking the sports field, he murmurs: "I love the jungle."

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The 58-year-old chases away the annoying insects with a brusque gesture of his hands when they get too close to his face. "Don Sato," as he is known around here, didn’t expect a visitor. At first, he is indecisive what to do. Then he turns around silently and opens the way into his modest house that is transformed into a bar on weekends. During the week the worn billiard tables are covered with tarpaulins. Huamán’s niece uses one of them to do her homework.

„Don Sato“ takes seat on a white plastic chair. Since an accident ten years ago, his leg is crooked. He needs a cane and walking or standing too long tires him. "That was different in the 60s ", he says. "We arrived here in a canoe, the whole family of six siblings. The road was built just 14 years ago." The government had handed over 28hectares of land to the family after a land reform. Many poor family from the highlands arrived in the jungle. It was fetile land; the Huamáns grew cocoa and cashew nuts. But in the early 80s, the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla arrived in the valley and subjugated the inhabitants. Extortion, forced recruitment, massacres and robberies were common. The State was overwhelmed. "The army had only one helicopter here at that time," remembers Huamán.


Because of the continuous battles the fields remained uncultivated and no transport company dared to navigate the dangerous jungle roads any more. The rich people fled to the cities. Those left behind, in their desperation, organized self-defense groups. And the money for the weapons? Huamán starts laughing: "The Colombians paid well for our coca." In 1992, a legendary meeting was held. Everybody was there: the leaders of the self-defense groups, the military commander, the police chief, the mayor and the 15 heads of the "companies", as the drug smuggling families were called. At that meeting, it was decided a ten percent tax on the companies. The money should be equally distributed to the participants in order to finance the war against the guerrillas or the development of the region. The "war tax" was recorded in the protocol as "a contribution from merchant number two ".

„At that moment, the dance of the millions began", smiles Huamán.

„At that moment, the dance of the millions began", smiles Huamán. The white powder washed a huge amount of money into the coffers of the mayor, the security forces and the self-defense groups. Huamán was able to send his children to study in the capital, buy them a car and an apartment. He lived his dream of social ascent.


But at the end of the 90s, the guerrillas had been defeated. "The government told us that we should now stop the coca business and threatened to wipe out the plantations. In order to put pressure on us, they banned the transport of fresh goods to the capital, allegedly for reasons of hygiene. In addition, gasoline sales were rationed", Huamán says just when a young farmer showes up on his doorstep, with dirty pants and a shy glance hidden under a deep-seated baseball cap. Huamán apologizes, hobbles to a pool table in the corner, stick in hand. He lifts a plastic blanket, pulls out a transparent tube, sucks on it briefly and then a yellowish liquid splashes into the farmer’s plastic canister.


Gasoline is still rationed in the valley, because it is not only fuel, but also an important ingredient for the production of coca paste. When Huamán has finished and pocketed a few soles, he lifts his baseball cap, scratches his head and adds: "We have grown accustomed to the easy money, everyone around here. The military even sell the kerosene of their helicopters. And the mayor, who arrived here as a poor as a church mouse, is now the king of the gas stations. The government has no interest in stopping this from happening. We have financed campaigns of members of parliament. And people here keep their mouth shut because things are not so bad for us here.

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